President Trump in the White House in Washington on Feb. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

IN NORMAL times, the State Department holds a daily briefing, like the White House, to respond to urgent developments around the globe. But there hasn’t been one in weeks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now on his first trip abroad, but no permanent deputy has been nominated. Hard-working government officials are holding down posts in an acting capacity, but hundreds of vital sub-Cabinet appointments have not been made. President Trump boasts of a “fine-tuned machine,” but his government halls are more echo than beehive.

The president is correct that his Cabinet nominees have run into flak from Democrats in the Senate; nine of 15 department secretaries have been confirmed. The situation is much worse when you include those below Cabinet level. Of 549 key appointments, the White House has yet to name 515, according to a tracker by The Post and Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Only 14 have been confirmed, and 20 are waiting. These key positions are among the roughly 1,200 total that require Senate confirmation and about 4,100 overall that the new administration must fill.

The incoming Trump team wasted no time in forcing Obama appointees overseas to hurry home and vacate their positions by Inauguration Day, but the new administration has moved with far less speed to find replacements. The only three ambassadors nominated so far are to China, Israel and the United Kingdom. Not a single assistant secretary of state has been named, much less confirmed.

The business of finding good people and steering them through the labyrinth of approval and security clearance is complex and difficult. But it also seems that the White House chaos is taking a toll. One can only imagine Mr. Tillerson’s frustration when his choice for deputy secretary of state, Elliott Abrams, was torpedoed by Mr. Trump because of an op-ed Mr. Abrams had written earlier. The New York Times reports that a top aide to Ben Carson, nominated to be housing and urban development secretary, was fired and escorted out of the department Feb. 15 after writings critical of Mr. Trump turned up in his vetting. The National Security Council, the nerve center for foreign and defense policy, lost its first Trump-appointed chief, Michael Flynn, after less than four weeks on the job, and when the position was offered to a retired vice admiral, Robert Harward, he reportedly turned it down in part because of the unpredictable behavior of the president. On Monday, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster was named to the post. Congressional Republicans, who have the legislative majority, are saying they are having difficulty finding someone to ask about priorities for the Trump administration.

(Reuters)

Mr. Trump’s calling card to be an effective president was his business experience, that he built skyscrapers. If he is to succeed in building government, he ought to pay extra attention to the high vacancy rate in Trumpville.